Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Using such hit songs from the film as "I Need a Hero," "Let's Hear it For the Boy," "I'm Free," and the title song, as well as additional ones written for the stage production by Tom Snow and Dean Pitchford (who both wrote songs for the movie soundtrack), Footloose is a feel-good musical with an important lesson about how one young man's desire to question, and break, the rules of a town in order to fit in, can also inspire and change other people's lives for the better. It also has a lot of heart, comedy, and upbeat dance numbers. Hale Centre Theatre's production features an excellent cast and spotless choreography that make these numbers soar and the heart and emotion of the story shine.
The plot focuses on high school student Ren McCormack, who has just moved with his mother from Chicago to the small town of Bomont, Texas. Ren quickly realizes that his fast Chicago lifestyle and way of doing things clash with the slow-moving town's rules, specifically one started by local minister Reverend Moore that bans dancing and rock music due to their supposedly negative influences on the young people in town. When Ren falls for the minister's daughter Ariel, it only makes matters worse, especially since Ren's outgoing personality is seen as a negative influence on Ariel and the rest of the town. Ren sets out to discover the truth behind the dance ban as to find a way to bridge the gap between himself and the ultra-conservative Moore.
Bookwriters Dean Pitchford and Walter Bobbie crafted a script that hits all of the basic plot points of the movie, even though some of the film's action sequences (like a car race) have been cut. Unlike other stage adaptations of popular films that have their characters sing the hit soundtrack songs even when the lyrics don't make much sense, like An Officer and a Gentleman, the lyrics from the Footloose soundtrack's songs fit naturally into the characters' voices and thoughts. While some of the newly written songs aren't quite on the same level as the two Oscar-nominated songs from the film, they do a good job in providing additional layers to the characters and insight into their thoughts and actions while also moving the plot along.
Director/choreographer Cambrian James has created numerous dance numbers that are energetic, exuberant, and highly rewarding, with steps that feature a variety of dance styles that tie into the pop and country tunes in the score. The cast is terrific. They sing the songs and dance the fun and upbeat choreography while creating believable characters.
Almost exactly eight years ago, I saw Kale Burr for the first time on stage, playing Ren in a youth production of this musical and I knew he was a talented individual to watch. Over the years he's appeared in lead and supporting roles in both youth productions and adult shows in town and his ability to create a realistic character is equally matched by his excellent singing and dancing skills. It's nice to see him play Ren again as he skillfully makes this young man a lovable outcast you root to succeed. His warm singing voice sounds great on the many songs he has, his dance skills are wonderful, and he creates realistic relationships with the rest of the members in the cast.
Carmiña Garey is full of fire as Ariel, the minister's daughter who falls for Ren. Garey does a great job demonstrating how Ariel knows how to do things to get under her father's skin, but we also see that she's a smart young woman who is frustrated about how events in the past have changed her relationship with her parents, especially with her father. Garey is a talented dancer and her singing voice is very good. She and Burr create plenty of intense passion and heat in their many scenes together.
As Reverend Moore, Adam Guinn (who was on for regular cast member Tyler Brignone the night I attended) does a wonderful job creating a compassionate and caring man who, while the antagonist of the show, appears deeply concerned for and understanding of those around him. Guinn has a beautiful singing voice and he creates realistic relationships with Garey and Kathleen Richards, who is lovely as Moore's sympathetic wife Vi. The pre-show announcement said that Guinn had minimal rehearsal time for the role, but you'd never know it from his believable and realistic portrayal. Richards, along with Rochelle Barton, who plays Ren's mom, doesn't have much to do, but both create realistic and sensible women you know have their children's best interests at heart, even if they sometimes don't do what the two mothers think is best.
Kyle Webb and Kayleah Wilson are excellent as Rusty and Willard, two classmates of Ariel and Ren who have feelings for each other but haven't figured out how to move their relationship from friendship to romance. Webb's rubbery facial expressions and hilarious body language are perfect for the dim-witted and slow on the draw Willard, but Webb also makes him a completely lovable and endearing character. His delivery of the hilarious solo "Mama Says" is a comical crowd pleaser. Wilson is equally strong as the young woman who is waiting for Willard to make the first move until she has to take things into her own hands. Her delivery of "Let's Here It for the Boy" is a winner and, with Brie Wadsworth-Gates and Josephine Maldonado, the song "Somebody's Eyes" is excellent. The entire ensemble deliver fun performances and, since Footloose is a show that requires a lot of dancing, they deliver the high energy numbers in style.
The creative aspects are quite effective, with Brian Daily and McKenna Carpenter's set design of several movable set pieces that, under James' effective staging, quickly whisk us from one location to the next. The costumes by Tia Hawkes are bright, colorful, and character specific. Logan Gerring's lighting uses a range of colors and shadows that work well for the bright daytime scenes and the dark evening ones.
While Footloose may not be a perfect musical, the characters are interesting, the situations they find themselves in are intriguing, and the film's familiar hit pop songs and the infectious, almost non-stop dancing result in a crowd pleaser.
Footloose runs through June 25, 2022, at Hale Centre Theatre, 50 W. Page Avenue, Gilbert AZ. For tickets and information, please visit www.haletheatrearizona.com or call 480-497-1181.
Producers & Casting Directors: David & Corrin Dietlein